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Toxicol Ind Health. 1999 Apr-Jun;15(3-4):339-45.

Sensory irritation and multiple chemical sensitivity.

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Anderson Laboratories, West Hartford, Vermont 05084, USA.


Many of the symptoms described in Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) resemble the symptoms known to be elicited by airborne irritant chemicals. Irritation of the eye, nose, and throat is common to SBS, MCS, and sensory irritation (SI). Difficulty of breathing is often seen with SBS, MCS, and pulmonary irritation (PI). We therefore asked the question: can indoor air pollutants cause SI and/or PI? In laboratory testing in which mice breathed the dilute volatile emissions of air fresheners, fabric softeners, colognes, and mattresses for 1 h, we measured various combinations of SI and PI as well as airflow decreases (analogous to asthma attacks). Air samples taken from sites associated with repeated human complaints of poor air quality also caused SI, PI, and airflow limitation (AFL) in the mice. In previous publications, we have documented numerous behavior changes in mice (which we formally studied with a functional observational battery) after exposure to product emissions or complaint site air; neurological complaints are a prominent part of SBS and MCS. All together, these data suggest that many symptoms of SBS and MCS can be described as SI, PI, AFL, and neurotoxicity. All these problems can be caused by airborne irritant chemicals such as those emitted by common commercial products and found in polluted indoor air. With some chemical mixtures (e.g., emissions of some fabric softeners, disposable diapers, and vinyl mattress covers) but not others (e.g., emissions of a solid air freshener), the SI response became larger (2- to 4-fold) when we administered a series of two or three 1-h exposures over a 24-h period. Since with each exposure the intensity of the stimulus was constant yet the magnitude of the response increased, we concluded that there was a change in the sensitivity of the mice to these chemicals. The response was not a generalized stress response because it occurred with only some mixtures of irritants and not others; it is a specific response to certain mixtures of airborne chemicals. This is one of the few times in MCS research that one can actually measure both the intensity of the stimulus and the magnitude of the response and thus be allowed to discuss sensitivity changes. The changing SI response of the mice might serve as a model of how people develop increasing sensitivity to environmental pollutants. Intensive study of this system should teach us much about how people respond to and change sensitivity to airborne irritant chemicals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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